According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 38% of MRIs on knees discover popliteal cysts, otherwise known as Baker’s cysts. These cysts form when joint-lubricating fluid fills a pouch near the back of the knee. This event can cause an unsightly bulge that can be extremely painful.
What Causes Baker’s Cysts?
Our knees naturally produce joint-lubricating fluid called synovial fluid. When the knee produces too much fluid, the excess can fill the back and of the knee and create a cyst. A variety of causes exist for Baker’s cysts, which also means there are a variety of ways a flare-up can occur, such as the following…
Swelling is a change in the size and shape of a part of the body, usually as the result of fluid buildup. This swelling can be from infections, allergic reactions, or other medical conditions. When swelling occurs in the joint of the knee, it can lead to Baker’s cysts flaring up.
Why Swelling Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
Swelling displaces surrounding tissues and subsequently causes all kinds of related problems. In individuals who are prone to Baker’s cysts, swelling near the knee can lead to these cysts being aggravated. Specifically, swelling can force synovial fluid into the cyst area or aggravate the knee’s production of this lubricating fluid. Either way, swelling can cause cyst flare-ups.
Related to swelling are a few of the actions that can cause it…
10. Ligament Damage
Ligaments are bands of tough, fibrous tissue that hold the bones of our joints together. Without them, our joints wouldn’t function properly. Ligaments can be torn as the result of an injury to the knee. When this happens, the knee can develop a Baker’s cyst.
Why Ligament Damage Trigger’s a Baker’s Cyst
Our ligaments are vital to the structure of the joint of the knee. Any damage to them throws our entire knee off balance. After all, these bands of tissue help the knee keep its structure. Therefore, when they are compromised, the knee can produce too much synovial fluid or that fluid can be expelled into the back of the knee; both of these events can cause a cyst to form.
Related to ligaments are menisci, which can also trigger a Baker’s cyst if they become damaged…
9. Torn Meniscus
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage with a very important job: it cushions the hip bone as it connects to the shin bone. This piece of cartilage is under pressure every day as we walk, stand, and use our legs. Damage to menisci can lead to a Baker’s cyst.
Why a Torn Meniscus Trigger’s a Baker’s Cyst
The menisci sit next to the synovial cavity in the knee. As the name suggests, the synovial cavity is where the synovial fluid is found. When a meniscus is torn, it can disrupt the production of synovial fluid and displace the fluid that usually resides next to it. Both of these events can lead to a Baker’s cyst flare-up.
While a torn meniscus is a serious injury, any damage to the knee can cause a Baker’s cyst flare-up…
Trauma can trigger a variety of underlying health conditions. When the joint of the knee becomes injured, it can create new cysts or cause existing ones to become worse. It all comes down to the type of injury and the individual.
Why Injury Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
When it comes to Baker’s cysts, damage to the cartilage around the knee is one of the leading causes for cyst flare-ups. This damage not only aggravates the area, but can also lead to swelling and infections, both of which further increase the risk of developing cysts.
One of the leading triggers for Baker’s cysts? Arthritis…
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. As it is age and wear related, many older adults experience this form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused when the protective cartilage that forms our joints starts to wear down. This event causes the bones to grind against each other instead of being cushioned by cartilage. The result? An incredibly painful experience that, in some cases, can result in a popliteal cyst.
Why Osteoarthritis Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
In the case of Baker’s cysts, you can think about osteoarthritis like a prolonged injury to the tendons in the knee. This prolonged injury can create problems with the synovial fluid, thereby causing it to bulge out of the back of the knee. This bulging can create or aggravate a Baker’s cyst.
Related to osteoarthritis is gout, another form of arthritis that also aggravates Baker’s cysts…
Gout is another type of arthritis. This type is caused by too much uric acid in the blood. Specifically, over time, uric acid crystallizes in the joints and can lead to pain, mobility issues, and swelling. Gout can affect anyone, which unfortunately makes it a common trigger for Baker’s cysts.
Why Gout Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
Gout, much like other types of arthritis, can aggravate the knee joint. This aggravation leads to swelling that can force the knee’s synovial fluid out of the joint and into the back of the knee. When it comes to Baker’s cysts, this swelling creates flare-ups or causes existing cysts to enlarge.
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis and gout are not the only forms of arthritis that can trigger popliteal cysts…
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the first Baker’s cyst trigger on our list to be caused by an autoimmune disorder. For people with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the joints, causing a variety of painful conditions.
Why Rheumatoid Arthritis Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
RA is an inflammatory condition, which means it creates swelling inside the tissues. On top of this internal swelling, the immune system might attack the otherwise healthy tissue in the knee, which causes a Baker’s cyst flare-up. This type of arthritis can even cause cysts to form in the first place.
Another potential cause for Baker’s cysts? An infection in or around the knee…
4. Infectious Arthritis
Also called septic arthritis, infectious arthritis is an infection of the joint that can create a variety of health problems. These infections usually occur after surgeries or when an infection spreads from one part of the body and into the joints.
Why Infectious Arthritis Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
Baker’s cysts can form when the knee produces excess synovial fluid, which then gets trapped behind the knee. An infection can disturb the natural production of these fluids. This disruption thereby creates the excess pressure needed to force the fluid outside of the joint. This event is more likely in cases where infections actually enter the joint itself.
We’ve covered a few specific types of arthritis that are common causes of Baker’s cyst flare-ups, but really any type of arthritis can cause cysts to worsen…
3. Other Types of Arthritis
Arthritis is just the technical term for any tenderness and swelling in the joints. We most commonly associate arthritis with conditions like gout, but there are dozens of varieties. Depending on factors like location and severity, each is capable of producing a Baker’s cyst.
Why Other Types of General Arthritis Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
Arthritis comes with joint swelling. When the knee joint swells, the synovial fluid can be displaced outside of the knee and create a cyst. This fact is especially true in cases where the knee is producing excess synovial fluid.
While arthritis is a common cause of Baker’s cyst flare-ups, there are other conditions that can cause these cysts to pop up…
2. Lifestyle Choices
The way we live our lives has a direct impact on our health. When it comes to Baker’s cysts, what we do every day can change how often and how severe these cysts become.
Why Lifestyle Choices Trigger a Baker’s Cyst
There are a few lifestyle choices that can complicate Baker’s cysts. Eating diets that can cause inflammation can aggravate these cysts, for starters. Amongst the key foods or beverages that aggravate Baker’s cysts? Alcohol, which also contributes to certain types of arthritis like gout. Irregular sleep or not getting enough sleep can also make inflammation worse, which can trigger these cysts as well.
Out of all of the lifestyle choices we make, exercise is one of the most important…
Exercise is vital to our health and well-being. However, if you exercise improperly, you can cause conditions like Baker’s cysts to become worse.
Why Exercise Triggers a Baker’s Cyst
Baker’s cysts are tricky when it comes to exercise. On the one hand, if you do not exercise and stretch enough, the knee joint can become stiff and more prone to injuries. These events both can cause Baker’s cysts. But on the other hand, exercises that hit the joints hard like running and CrossFit can trigger a Baker’s cyst if done improperly. This fact is just one of the many reasons why it’s always important to learn proper form when working out.
Taking care of our knees is the key to having great mobility throughout our life. Managing Baker’s cysts comes down to preventing and minimizing the impact of arthritis as we age as well as enjoying a healthy lifestyle.
While Baker’s cysts are often fairly harmless on their own, care should be taken if you notice any potential cyst. A doctor’s visit is necessary to rule out more complicated conditions,, including blood clots, tumors, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).